The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Gabby Hartnett”

The Day Babe Ruth Called His Shot

Writing about Babe Ruth is like writing about God.  No matter what you say about either of them, you are bound to offend someone.

Still, there is one major difference between the two of them. God never hit 714 home runs.

Oh, sure, God COULD have hit that many if he had wanted to, you say, but we’ve heard that before about countless prospects over the decades. Yet only a heroic Henry Aaron and an inflatable Barry Bonds have surpassed Ruth. Gods, of course, have the power to know what truths the future holds, a power that mere mortals are not privy to.

So how, then, was Babe Ruth able to predict that he would hit a home run off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in that legendary at-bat in the 1932 World Series? Actually, the essential question here is, DID Babe Ruth truly call his shot on that early October afternoon in Chicago?

It all began with sportswriter Joe Williams.  In the late edition of the same day as the game, he wrote, “Ruth Calls Shot As He Puts Home Run No. 2 In Side Pocket.” (Ruth had already hit another home run earlier in the game.) At first, even Ruth dismissed the story, saying that he was just pointing towards the Cubs bench telling them he still had one more strike to go.

As time went on, however, Ruth began to warm up to the story, embellishing it as time went by.

Yet no other player on the field that day was able to positively confirm that Ruth actually did call his shot, a monster 440-foot home run towards the flagpole beyond the outfield wall. Still, the famous photo exists that shows Ruth gesturing, arm outstretched, pointing at someone or something during this very at-bat.

Isn’t it at least plausible that this enormously talented hitter and consummate showman really could have called his shot that day? Ruth later claimed that he announced, “I’m gonna hit the next pitched ball past the flagpole. Well, the Good Lord must have been with me that day.” God, apparently, is a Yankees fan (which would explain a lot of things.)

Yet Yankees pitcher Charlie Deven, in an interview given seven decades later, said that while at first he thought Ruth’s foreshadowing gesture was indeed a portent of the subsequent home run, he was corrected by Yankees shortstop Frank Crosetti who told Deven that Ruth simply put up one finger to indicate he still had another strike coming.

Cub’s pitcher Charlie Root denied to his dying day that Ruth called his shot.  In one interview, he said that if Ruth had tried a stunt like that, his next pitch would have knocked Ruth on his ass.

The player who was physically closest to Ruth in that moment was Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett.  Hartnett later stated that Ruth did not in fact call his home run.  Instead, he said that Ruth bellowed, “That’s only two strikes,” while pointing at the Cubs dugout.

One might argue that Crosetti simply wasn’t physically close enough to Ruth to hear what he actually said.  And it can also be argued that Gabby Hartnett, being the catcher for the opposing team during a bitterly contested World Series (which the Yankees swept in four games), would have every reason to try to deny additional glory to the Yankee legend.

We must keep in mind that Ruth was not a brash, 25-year old kid just trying to make a name for himself.  In that case, it is conceivable that players on both teams would have tried to cut Ruth down to size for his lack of humility. But Ruth was an aging, 37-year old legend playing in his last World Series.  He was not just another star; he was THE star that all of baseball was indebted to for leading the way out of the woods of the scandalous 1919 season which could have ruined baseball indefinitely.

It was his exploits that changed the game forever, filling stadiums all over America, putting a little more money in every player’s pocket. In other words, his reputation already cast in stone, it’s hard to see why, if Ruth really had called his shot that day, not a single player on the field that day would grant him this one last diamond in his crown.

Unless, of course, it never happened. But why, then, would Ruth feel compelled to embrace this apocryphal tale?

To answer this question, we have to take a closer look at Ruth the Man, as opposed to Ruth the demigod. Despite enjoying a very productive season in 1932, Ruth was clearly no longer the dominant slugger in the American League.  For the first time since 1925, Ruth failed to lead the league in any of the following three categories:  Home Runs, RBI’s, or Slugging Percentage.

His teammate, Lou Gehrig, with whom a tense rivalry existed, had driven in 151 runs to Ruth’s still fine 137.  Worse, Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics had out-homered Ruth 58 to 41, falling just two homers short of Ruth’s own single-season home run record.

While Foxx and Gehrig had finished 1-2 in MVP voting in ’32, Ruth finished tied with Joe Cronin for a distant 6th in the balloting. Ruth, age rapidly creeping up on him, must have sensed his days as baseball’s most awesome slugger were numbered.  He also must have known that despite how much he was loved by his countless admirers, in the end, his on-field production would dictate the intensity and degree of their future admiration.

Ruth would also have realized that the world itself had changed drastically since the Yankees glory days of the late 1920’s. Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic back in ‘27.  Now, Europe was faced with the specter of Fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany. A world-wide Depression had taken hold, and America itself was threatened by malignant forces both from within and without.

In short, the world was clearly not headed into a new Age of Reason.  Dark forces could only be effectively met by new heroes.  Franklin Roosevelt and his inspirational Fireside Chats were still months away.  Ruth, then, already a hero back in the heady days of the ‘20’s, tapped into the American Zeitgeist once again, and delivered the miracle this emotionally impoverished nation needed, i.e., that a man could still control his destiny.

Babe Ruth’s Called Shot resonated with the American public because it proved that even in the face of extreme darkness, heroic moments were still possible.

Yet, for our purposes here today, during a time of renewed social and economic turmoil, our rationalist selves have to accept that there just doesn’t seem to be any objective evidence that Babe Ruth really did call his shot.

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Baseball’s Doppelgangers

Ralph Kiner

Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite features of Baseball-Reference.com can be found near the bottom of every player’s  profile.  It appears in a red box and is called “Similarity Scores.”  Directly below that heading, you will find the sub-heading, “Similar Batters” or “Similar Pitchers,” depending on the given player’s specific occupation.  Also listed are the players who are most similar by age to the player you are researching.

It is a fantastic tool, and often provides an excellent perspective to a particular player’s career.

How great, for example, was Kenny Lofton?  According to his Similarity Scores, three of the ten players he was most similar to are in the Hall of Fame:  Harry Hooper, Max Carey, and Fred Clarke.  A fourth player on this list, Tim Raines, should also probably be in The Hall.

Without this useful context, it is a bit more difficult to begin to construct the foundation of an argument that Kenny Lofton just possibly deserves to be in The Hall.

Just for fun, I constructed a list of dozens of currently active Major League ball players, and I researched each of their respective baseball doppelgangers, the players most similar to each of them.  I found the results to be interesting and useful, and I decided to share some of them with you.

I decided not, however, to research players who have been active fewer than five years in the Major Leagues because their career profiles are likely to change significantly as they accumulate more playing time.

In each pair of ball players listed below, the first player is still currently active, and the second name in the pair is his retired doppelganger.

A)  Paul Konerko:

365 HR, 1156 RBI, .280 BA, .854 OPS, 119 OPS+, 22.1 WAR

B)  Joe Adcock:

336 HR, 1122 RBI, .277 BA, .822 OPS, 123 OPS+, 34.2 WAR

A)  Adam Dunn:

354 HR, 880 RBI, .250 BA, .902 OPS, 133 OPS+. 27.1 WAR

B)  Ralph Kiner:

369 HR, 1015 RBI, .279 BA, .946 OPS, 149 OPS+, 45.9 WAR

Kiner is in the Hall of Fame.  He played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ homers in five consecutive seasons, followed by a 37 home run season.  He retired at age 32.

Dunn has played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ home runs in five consecutive seasons, followed by two 38 home run seasons.  He is 31 years old.

A)  Magglio Ordonez:

289 HR, 1204 RBI, .312 BA, .883 OPS, 128 OPS+, 36.9 WAR

B)  Chuck Klein:

300 HR, 1201 RBI, .320 BA, .922 OPS, 137 OPS+, 39.2 WAR

Hall of Famer Klein played 17 years and retired at age 39.  If Ordonez plays three more seasons, he will have played 17 years and will have retired at age 39.  They each won a batting title.  They each topped 20 stolen bases one time.  And they each hit at least 25 home runs in a season six times.

A)  Tim Hudson:

165 wins – 87 losses, 3.42 ERA, 1541 S.O., 1.247 WHIP, 128 ERA+, 46.3 WAR

B)  Jimmy Key:

186 wins – 117 losses, .3.51 ERA, 1538 S.O., 1.229 WHIP, 122 ERA+, 45.7 WAR

A)  Jorge Posada:

261 HR, 1021 RBI, .275 BA, .856 OPS, 123 OPS+, 46 WAR

B)  Gabby Hartnett:

236 HR, 1179 RBI, .297 BA, .858 OPS, 126 OPS+, 50.3 WAR

Hartnett retired at age 40.  Posada, nearing the end of the line, is 39 years old.  Hartnett played in six All-Star Games; Posada has played in five.  It required several years on the ballot before Hartnett was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.  One can foresee a similar fate awaiting Posada.

A)  Mark Teixeira:

275 HR, 906 RBI, .286 BA, .913 OPS, 134 OPS+, 36.7 WAR

b)  Hal Trosky:

228 HR, 1012 RBI, .302 BA, .892 OPS, 130 OPS+, 26.2 WAR

Migraine headaches forced Trosky into retirement at age 28.  Twice he came out of retirement, but he was just a shadow of the player he had been over the first several years of his career.

A)  Roy Oswalt:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.18 ERA, 1666 S.O., 1.184 WHIP, 135 ERA+, 44.6 WAR

b)  Dizzy Dean:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.02 ERA, 1163 S.O., 1.206 WHIP, 131 ERA+, 39.6 WAR

At first, when I noticed that their career win-loss records were identical, I thought I must have made a mistake.  But those are the correct numbers, folks.  Now that’s what I call a baseball doppelganger.

Dean’s career lasted about a decade.  Oswalt has ten complete seasons under his belt.  Dean is in the Hall of Fame.  Can you tell me why Oswalt, then, shouldn’t be once he retires?

There are many more pairs I found interesting:  Mark Buehrle / Johnny Podres, Carlos Lee / Del Ennis, and Matt Holliday / Chick Hafey are but a few examples of these doppelganger pairs.

In general, it was more difficult to find reasonably similar pitchers across time than it was to find pairs of hitters who matched up well with one another.

Take from this research what you will.  As for me, I have come to recognize that there are several more players than I realized who have built strong Hall of Fame cases for themselves over the past decade.  Once they retire, these kinds of comparisons will go a long way to buttressing arguments regarding their respective Hall of Fame worthiness.

Friendly Reminder: I invite you to check back in to this blog on Friday of this week for the third of twelve planned installments of the series, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst,” that Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present and I are collaborating on.

Did Babe Ruth Really Call His Shot?

Writing about Babe Ruth is like writing about God.  No matter what you say about either of them, you are bound to offend someone. Still, there is one major difference between the two of them. God never hit 714 home runs. Oh, sure, God COULD have hit that many if he had wanted to, you say, but we’ve heard that before about countless prospects over the decades. Yet only a heroic Henry Aaron and an inflatable Barry Bonds have surpassed Ruth. Gods, of course, have the power to know what truths the future holds, a power that mere mortals are not privy to.  So how, then, was Babe Ruth able to predict that he would hit a home run off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in that legendary at-bat in the 1932 World Series? Actually, the essential question here is, DID Babe Ruth truly call his shot on that early October afternoon in Chicago? It all began with sportswriter Joe Williams.  In the late edition of the same day as the game, he wrote, “Ruth Calls Shot As He Puts Home Run No. 2 In Side Pocket.” (Ruth had already hit another home run earlier in the game.) At first, even Ruth dismissed the story, saying that he was just pointing towards the Cubs bench telling them he still had one more strike to go. As time went on, however, Ruth began to warm up to the story, embellishing it as time went by. Yet no other player on the field that day was able to positively confirm that Ruth actually did call his shot, a monster 440-foot home run towards the flagpole beyond the outfield wall. Still, the famous photo exists that shows Ruth gesturing, arm outstretched, pointing at someone or something during this very at-bat. Isn’t it at least plausible that this enormously talented hitter and consummate showman really could have called his shot that day? Ruth later claimed that he announced, “I’m gonna hit the next pitched ball past the flagpole. Well, the Good Lord must have been with me that day.” God, apparently, is a Yankees fan (which would explain a lot of things.) Yet Yankees pitcher Charlie Deven, in an interview given seven decades later, said that while at first he thought Ruth’s foreshadowing gesture was indeed a portent of the subsequent home run, he was corrected by Yankees shortstop Frank Crosetti who told Deven that Ruth simply put up one finger to indicate he still had another strike coming. Cub’s pitcher Charlie Root denied to his dying day that Ruth called his shot.  In one interview, he said that if Ruth had tried a stunt like that, his next pitch would have knocked Ruth on his ass. The player who was physically closest to Ruth in that moment was Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett.  Hartnett later stated that Ruth did not in fact call his home run.  Instead, he said that Ruth bellowed, “That’s only two strikes,” while pointing at the Cubs dugout. One might argue that Crosetti simply wasn’t physically close enough to Ruth to hear what he actually said.  And it can also be argued that Gabby Hartnett, being the catcher for the opposing team during a bitterly contested World Series (which the Yankees swept in four games), would have every reason to try to deny additional glory to the Yankee legend. It must also be remembered that Ruth was not a brash, 25-year old kid just trying to make a name for himself.  In that case, it is conceivable that players on both teams would have tried to cut Ruth down to size for his lack of humility. But Ruth was an aging, 37-year old legend playing in his last World Series.  He was not just another star; he was THE star that all of baseball was indebted to for leading the way out of the woods of the scandalous 1919 season which could have ruined baseball indefinitely.  It was his exploits that changed the game forever, filling stadiums all over America, putting a little more money in every player’s pocket. In other words, his reputation already cast in stone, it’s hard to see why, if Ruth really had called his shot that day, not a single player on the field that day would grant him this one last diamond in his crown. Unless, of course, it never happened. But why, then, would Ruth feel compelled to embrace this apocryphal tale? To answer this question, we have to take a closer look at Ruth the Man, as opposed to Ruth the demigod. Despite enjoying a very productive season in 1932, Ruth was clearly no longer the dominant slugger in the American League.  For the first time since 1925, Ruth failed to lead the league in any of the following three categories:  Home Runs, RBI’s, or Slugging Percentage.  His teammate, Lou Gehrig, with whom a tense rivalry existed, had driven in 151 runs to Ruth’s still fine 137.  Worse, Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics had out-homered Ruth 58 to 41, falling just two homers short of Ruth’s own single-season home run record. While Foxx and Gehrig had finished 1-2 in MVP voting in ’32, Ruth finished tied with Joe Cronin for a distant 6th in the balloting. Ruth, age rapidly creeping up on him, must have sensed his days as baseball’s most awesome slugger were numbered.  He also must have known that despite how much he was loved by his countless admirers, in the end, his on-field production would dictate the intensity and degree of their future admiration. He must also have realized that the world itself had changed drastically since the Yankees glory days of the late 1920’s. Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic back in ‘27.  Now, Europe was faced with the specter of Fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany. A world-wide Depression had taken hold, and America itself was threatened by malignant forces both from within and without. In short, the world was clearly not headed into a new Age of Reason.  Dark forces could only be effectively met by new heroes.  Franklin Roosevelt and his inspirational Fireside Chats were still months away.  Ruth, then, already a hero back in the heady days of the ‘20’s, tapped into the American Zeitgeist once again, and delivered the miracle this emotionally impoverished nation needed, i.e., that a man could still control his destiny. Babe Ruth’s Called Shot resonated with the American public because it proved that even in the face of extreme darkness, heroic moments were still possible. Yet, for our purposes here today, during a time of renewed social and economic turmoil, our rationalist selves have to accept that there just doesn’t seem to be any objective evidence that Babe Ruth really did call his shot.

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